Swickard: Burning up with road-rage

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Road-rage has been all the rage to talk about these last few weeks. Someone did a survey of what causes road-rage. The top cause was people who drive too slowly. For cranky people susceptible to road-rage driving too slowly are all those people going slower than them.
     The best way to understand these cranky people is to see them change a light bulb. They hold the bulb steady and let the world revolve around them. 
      In the 1950s humorist Brother Dave Gardner told about a guy behind a truck he could not pass. There was a sign on the back of the truck: I may be slow but I am ahead of you. The guy flips out and wrecks. It is a funny story, to a point.
     Two hundred years ago humans could only go as fast as a horse could run. Those early 19th century humans could only go the speed of Romans two thousand years earlier. Perhaps there was road-rage then for slow horses. Then technology increased speed. We now can go hundreds of miles in a day in air-conditioned comfort listening to music coming from space.
     But some people act like being slowed for a few moments makes the whole journey like riding in a German cattle-car in the early 1940s. Impatient people feel everything on the road purposely tries to make them mad. Ultimately, they pay the price for their maladaptive coping mechanism, though innocent people also pay.
     Out in the country where I am from we generally smile and wave. We drive friendly even with strangers. There is a reason for our civility. In small towns everyone knows everyone else so bad behavior is remembered more than sin and is often punished by the offender being shunned by town folks.
      Contrast that with big cities where people are mostly anonymous. Many unnecessarily aggressive drivers count on being able to disappear into a cloud of strangers after their intentionally bad moments. But there is a change brought to us by technology: car video systems.Read full column